| The most popular
sports in Ireland are Gaelic Football and Association Football.
Together with Hurling and Rugby, they make up the four biggest
team sports in Ireland. Gaelic Football is the most popular
in terms of match attendance and community involvement,
All-Ireland Football Final is the biggest day in Ireland's
sporting calendar. Association football, meanwhile, is the
most commonly played team sport in Ireland and the most
popular sport in which Ireland fields international teams.
Furthermore, there is significant Irish interest in the
English and (to a lesser extent) Scottish soccer leagues.
Many other sports are also played and followed, particularly
golf and horse racing but also show jumping, greyhound racing,
swimming, boxing, basketball, cricket, fishing, handball,
motorsport, tennis and hockey.
Hurling and Gaelic football, along with camogie, ladies'
Gaelic football, handball and rounders, make up the national
sports of Ireland, collectively known as Gaelic games. All
Gaelic games are governed by the Gaelic Athletic Association
(GAA), with the exception of ladies' Gaelic football and
camogie, which are governed by separate organisations. The
GAA is organised on an all-Ireland basis with all 32 counties
competing. The headquarters of the GAA (and the main stadium)
is located at the 82,500 capacity Croke Park in north Dublin.
Major GAA games are played there, including the semi-finals
and finals of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship
and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. During the
redevelopment of the Lansdowne Road stadium, international
rugby and soccer are played there. All GAA players, even
at the highest level, are amateurs, receiving no wages (although
they are permitted to receive a certain amount of income
from sources such as sponsorship, grants or scholarships).
Irish Football Association (IFA) was originally the governing
body for Association football throughout the island. The
game has been played in Ireland since the 1860s (Cliftonville
F.C. of Belfast being Ireland's oldest club) but remained
a minority sport outside of Ulster until the 1880s. However,
some clubs based outside Belfast felt that the IFA largely
favoured Ulster-based, Protestant clubs in such matters
as selection for the national team. Following an incident
in which, despite an earlier promise, the IFA, for security
reasons, moved an Irish Cup final replay from Dublin to
Belfast, the clubs based in what would soon become the Free
State set up a new Football Association of the Irish Free
State (FAIFS) - now known as the Football Association of
Ireland (FAI) - in 1921. Despite being initially blacklisted
by the Home Nations' associations, the FAI was recognised
by FIFA in 1923 and organised its first international fixture
in 1926 (against Italy). However, both the IFA and FAI continued
to select their teams from the whole of Ireland, with some
players earning international caps for matches with both
teams. Both also referred to their respective teams as "Ireland".
In 1950, FIFA directed the associations only to select players
from within their respective territories, and in 1953 FIFA
further clarified that the FAI's team was to be known only
as "Republic of Ireland", and the IFA's team only as "Northern
Ireland" (with certain exceptions). Northern Ireland qualified
for the World Cup finals in 1958 (reaching the quarter-finals),
1982 and 1986. Team Republic qualified for the World Cup
finals in 1990 (reaching the quarter-finals), 1994, 2002
and the European Championships in 1988.
Irish rugby team includes players from north and south,
and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) governs the sport
on both sides of the border. Consequently in international
rugby, the Ireland team represents the whole island. The
Irish rugby team have played in every Rugby World Cup, making
the quarter-finals at four of them. Ireland also hosted
games during the 1991 and the 1999 Rugby World Cups (including
a quarter-final). There are four professional provincial
sides that contest the Magners League and Heineken Cup.
Irish rugby has become increasingly competitive at both
the international and provincial levels since the sport
went professional in 1994. During that time, Ulster (1999)
and Munster (2006 and 2008) have both won the Heineken Cup.
The Ireland cricket team was among the associate nations
which qualified for the 2007 Cricket World Cup, where it
defeated Pakistan and finished second in its pool, earning
a place in the Super 8 stage of the competition.
The Irish rugby league team is also organised on an all-Ireland
basis. The team is made up predominantly of players based
in England with Irish family connections, with others drawn
from the local competition and Australia. Ireland reached
the quarter-finals of the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.
with rugby and Gaelic games, cricket, golf, tennis, rowing,
hockey and most other sports are organised on an all-island
basis. Greyhound racing and horse racing are both popular
in Ireland: greyhound stadiums are well attended and there
are frequent horse race meetings. The Republic is noted
for the breeding and training of race horses and is also
a large exporter of racing dogs. The horse racing sector
is largely concentrated in the central east of the Republic.
Boxing is also an all-island sport governed by the Irish
Amateur Boxing Association. In 1992, Michael Carruth won
a gold medal for boxing in the Barcelona Olympic Games.
Irish athletics has seen some development in recent times,
with Sonia O'Sullivan winning two notable medals at 5,000
metres; gold at the 1995 World Championships and silver
at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Gillian O'Sullivan won silver
in the 20k walk at the 2003 World Championships, while sprint
hurdler Derval O'Rourke won gold at the 2006 World Indoor
Championship in Moscow.
Golf is a popular sport in Ireland and golf tourism is a
major industry. The 2006 Ryder Cup was held at The K Club
in County Kildare. Pádraig Harrington became the first Irishman
since Fred Daly in 1947 to win the British Open at Carnoustie
in July 2007. He successfully defended his title in July
2008 before going on to win the PGA Championship in August.
Harrington became the first European to win the PGA Championship
in 78 years (Tommy Armour in 1930), and was the first winner
The west coast of Ireland, Lahinch and Donegal Bay in particular,
have popular surfing beaches; being fully exposed to the
Atlantic Ocean. Donegal Bay is shaped like a funnel and
catches West/South-West Atlantic winds, creating good surf
- especially in winter. In recent years, Bundoran has hosted
European championship surfing. The south-west of Ireland,
such as the Dingle Peninsula and Lahinch, also has surf
beaches. Scuba diving is increasingly popular in Ireland
with clear waters and large populations of sea life, particularly
along the western seaboard. There are also many shipwrecks
along the coast of Ireland, with some of the best wreck
dives being in Malin Head and off the County Cork coast.
With thousands of lakes, over 14,000 kilometres (8,700 mi)
of fish bearing rivers, and over 3,700 kilometres (2,300
mi) of coastline, Ireland is a popular angling destination.
The temperate Irish climate is suited to sport angling.
While salmon and trout fishing remain popular with anglers,
salmon fishing in particular received a boost in 2006 with
the closing of the salmon driftnet fishery. Coarse fishing
continues to increase its profile. Sea angling is developed
with many beaches mapped and signposted, and in recent times
the range of sea angling species has increased.